I Know a Guy

"In the Third millennium after the birth of Christ one nation bestrode the world like a Colossus: The United States of America. Its culture was the world's culture, and its armies garrisoned the Earth. It truly was the time of the Pax Americana. Then one perfect day a small group of shadowy men destroyed the symbol of American economic might and snuffed out 3,000 souls, and the people asked – Why do they hate us?" ~ Pax Americana (WBUR Boston)


The summer of 2003 was the quiet before the storm of insurgency against American forces in Iraq. Bush may have galled the world by waddling across the deck of an aircraft carrier in a flight-suit and declaring, “Mission Accomplished,” but as spring gave way to summer, many were hailing the US as the most dominant power of all time, and some were beginning to say that maybe Empire wasn’t such a bad thing after all, since we seemed to be so good at it. The Bush Administration did little to disabuse its citizens of this notion, installing, for example, L. Paul Bremer as the (ahem) “Viceroy” of the Occupation.

With the anti-war camp resolute in their conviction that the war was fought for oil, I decided to investigate the issue in depth for an issue of Newtopia devoted to the topic of “Empires.”  It was a huge topic, and I needed help. I asked a Newtopia writer named Guy Herron to co-author the lead feature on the history and relationship between US foreign policy and oil. Guy Herron came recommend to me by a mutual friend, an eccentric expat writer living in Japan named Tom Bradley.

“If you want to write about oil and war,” Tom said, “Guy is about as knowledgeable as you can get when it comes to the Yoo-nited States of ‘Murrica, Charlie.”

Guy was an enigmatic character, to say the least. In his early sixties and living in a remote area of Utah, his bio read that he was an “ex-student, ex-soldier, ex-logger, ex-construction worker, ex-steelworker, ex-motorcycle deliveryman, ex-motorcycle racer, ex-bouncer, ex-newspaper editor and ex-husband, at present eking out a precarious living designing, building and programming manufacturing machinery.” He was also a good writer with a strong penchant for politics and history.

In February of 2003, during the run up to the invasion, we published an op/ed Guy wrote called, “The Bush Blunders.” His central assertion was that, “America has always been a plutocracy but the mailed fist has been concealed in a velvet glove. We think we are free — we are not, we are just on a long leash.”

It quickly took on the tone of a jeremiad. I have to admit I didn’t think too much of it at first, because I didn’t understand it. I was not well-versed in concepts like “plutocracies” and “population control” which he discussed in his thesis paragraph:

“Population control is not a mysterious art, it is well known, and divide and conquer is rule number one. The Brits called it The Balance of Power and used it successfully on Europe for centuries. It sees a lot of use in American prisons where races are set off against each other and in the country as a whole where problems associated with differences of race, religion and origin are exacerbated by our rulers. Plutocracies everywhere use this tool to keep the people under them from forming into a single community that might see them for what they are and shrug them off like an old coat. The Bush Boys and their coterie have ignored this technique and instead are uniting the countries of the world against us. This is a blunder. We are the strongest nation in the world but we are not stronger than all the nations of the world.”

“Divide and conquer” did, however, strike a chord with me. I grew up in Chicago, a racist and segregated city, where the police actively separate white and black. I lived in a conservative white suburb surrounded by racists, inculcated with the idea that criminal = black, actively taught to avoid black people, to fear them, deride them, and blame them for all of society’s ills.

Later, in my twenties, while living in the (predominantly black) Salvation Army shelter, I befriended a Minister named Jerome Jackson who told me how the colonial powers used “divide and conquer” to rule Africa. They would draw the borders of their colonies so that they cut certain tribes in half, often enclosing two rival tribes together. The colonial administration would then actively favor one tribe over the other. The net result was that it kept the Africans anger and resentment focused on each other, rather than on their colonial overlords. This way, there weren't any of those pesky uprisings. Hundreds of years later, little has changed. Black neighborhoods in American cities are gang colonies, and a black man’s primary enemy is another of his brothers.

It was in the next paragraph that Guy began to lose me:

The judicious use of war is another tool of population control. Many herd animals, including us, unite against a common danger, temporarily forgetting our individual differences and aspirations. War has been the premiere control method in the United States for over sixty years and the people have been unaware of it. In 1940 the country had been in an economic depression for close to a decade and a strong movement for social justice had developed. The International Workers of the World (the Wobblies) were taking over entire towns in the Northwest. In the coal mining areas of Virginia and Tennessee major fire fights were taking place between miners and National Guard troops. The country had never been so close to a revolution from the left. Our plutocracy helped the Nazi rise in Germany and armed and provoked the Japanese in the Pacific. Then we sucked the Japs into bombing Pearl Harbor and everything was OK again. Our rulers have kept us at war ever since.

Today I take all that for granted, but this was radical and subversive thinking to me back then. It stood in such sharp contrast to the deeply held myths of America as the “noble defender of freedom.” I considered the implication that World War II was fought for any other reason than to defeat the “evils of fascism,” or that the Japanese were anything but naked aggressors, to be preposterous, and somewhat offensive. Coming as I did from a typical American family, with a Grandfather who is a decorated World War II veteran, if I thought about it at all, I always believed that our nation only went to war reluctantly, as a final resort. I imagine most Americans still hold this view.

The American history you learn in text books is replete with the pretense of non-interventionism and defensive warfare. These, we are told, have their origin in Washington’s farewell address where he warned against “foreign entanglements.” It’s pretty clear the man knew what he was talking about, but looking at the facts today it doesn’t look like Washington’s advice was ever heeded. This nation has been continuously involved in some form of armed conflict throughout its brief history, and more often than is understood by the American people, it has been the aggressor nation. 

In spite of this clear proclivity for wars of conquest, and the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, I somehow still believed the myth that we were a "peace and freedom loving people" who only reluctantly engaged in our own defense. Guy Herron took that delusion and slapped me upside the head with it.

He closed with a pithy attack on the myth of “freedom” into which all Americans are indoctrinated, the idea that we live in a “democracy” and our leaders carry out the will of the people:

“We imagine that we govern ourselves. This is asinine on the face of it — as if the work of self government could be done by voting every two years, if that. No, we are governed by the plutocrats and we always have been, while the velvet glove of illusion has kept us sanguine and malleable.”

Velvet glove of illusion? What the hell is that supposed to mean?

Although I never shared with him my critique of his work (nor did I bother to ask him any clarifying questions either) hearing it now should amply explain my hesitancy to have Guy co-author the oil piece. Initially I assumed he wouldn't be interested; I was way off on that one. Guy was into it from the beginning, and I needed that more than anything else. We were taking on an exceptionally complex and obfuscated topic that would require a daunting amount of research. Then Guy blew me away when he told me he had a substantial amount of research already, so I suggested that he then write the first draft, and I would build on his draft. Then we would revise together.

Guy had high aspirations for this piece from he onset. He said he wanted to try and pull in someone with high credibility to write an introduction. He sent a fax to former US Attorney-General turned human rights advocate Ramsey Clark. He told Clark, “America has ‘won’ the 'war' but our battle is not over.  It is clear from past actions that the purpose of American foreign policy toward Iraq is to wipe those troublesome people off of the top of all that wonderful oil.  It is the intent of our article to expose the underlying motives behind America’s actions in order to keep the issue before the public.”

There was something about the way Guy phrased things that was off-putting to me, leaving me somewhat rankled. I was never one to shy from strong language, but when it came to this particular subject matter, he was triggering something much deeper. It was as if I had some kind of autonomic response to hearing my country maligned, a purely emotional knee-jerk reaction, regardless of the veracity of the claims. Of course, I didn’t know I was programmed to respond that way through indoctrination, nor that I was in massive denial. Sadly, it would have consequences, affecting both my relationship with Guy and our ability to collaborate together.

When he turned in his draft, I felt I had made a terrible mistake. If “The Bush Blunders” seemed incredulous, this stuff was downright outlandish. He titled his draft, “Sympathy for the Devil,” and he opened with the following statement:

“On September 11th, a BBC reporter in Lower Manhattan asked a man dressed in a suit and tie, a man who looked and sounded as if he had an education, if he thought the events at the WTC could be the result of US Foreign Policy in the Middle East. I’ll never forget what this man on the streets of New York said: What does flying airplanes into buildings have to do with politics? This sense of Papal infallibility in one’s government is precisely why 9/11 happened. The public is not used to questioning how a continuous stream of oil is provided at 30 bucks a barrel. They never question the means through which their lifestyle is provided. Most just don’t want to know the truth.”

I could get behind that statement fairly easily. I'd also argue that the American obliviousness to how their lifestyle is maintained is intentionally fostered. Knowing the truth  invariably leads to the sorts of moral and ethical questions the ruling elite prefers not to have to answer

The tone shifted dramatically in the next paragraph.

“So rather than spend on scientific research into fusion or free energy, we spend nearly a trillion a year making things to kill lots and lots of colored people, steal their land, and steal their mineral rights. In doing so, we extend the life of the Empire by baby steps, at the cost of millions of lives and trillions of dollars of the taxpayer’s money.”

He went on to describe the United States as a “runaway Imperial power” and “a brutal nation addicted to war.”  He said the Cold War was mostly propaganda, that the Soviet Union was nowhere near a matched power. Instead, he said we should have called the Cold War the "Third World War," not only because it was the “third major mass-casualty world conflict of the 20th Century,” but also because it took place exclusively in the Third World. He cited three million dead in Korea, three million in Vietnam, three million in Cambodia, one million in Laos, more than a million in Latin America, two million in Iraq, and the as-yet uncounted millions in Afghanistan and the new Iraq conflict.

Moreover, he continued, the US has a long history of installing brutal dictatorships around the world who are friendly to American business interests, and decidedly unfriendly to their own populations. He called the Iraq War the “beginning of the Fourth World War, a war which would be fought for strategic control over the world’s dwindling resources, chiefly oil.”

He claimed that when the National Security Act was passed in 1947, the United States turned over control to a “Shadow Government” that consists mainly of the CIA, NSA, Secret Service and the Pentagon (also referred to as the "National Security State"). This “drugs and arms running network,” as he called it, was in charge of American foreign policy. He claimed that anywhere in the world you find the American military you also find oil (or other precious natural resources) and drugs. [1]

I had never heard it put quite like that. I was of course aware of the allegations of CIA drug trafficking, but I hadn’t really followed up with the research I started a few years earlier when writing for Reality Checks, so Guy’s assertion at the time just seemed like more hyperbole. The words “Shadow Government” made me cringe, it sounded so tin-foil hatty. My response was just short of deriding it as the rantings of a crank, but I restrained myself. In truth, my internal reaction was closer to denial.

Guy’s draft was too extreme sounding for me to feel comfortable publishing it. It wasn’t so much the facts that turned me off, as the presentation. It was too cynical, brimming with contempt, and that tended to turn readers off. I too felt strongly about the good ole US of A, I too was cynical and disgusted, but after what happened to Harrison and I after we ran the John Ashcroft story on Reality Checks, I became far more cautious and restrained. It had a deep, lasting affect. I constantly worried what the ramifications would be for myself and the magazine for taking risks like that again, and in the end I found myself hamstrung by fear and insecurity. I ended up projecting it onto Guy. Since I didn’t have the courage to keep it real and call shit out for what it was, I wouldn’t let him say it either.

My thesis was quite different. I argued that world trade had become a game in which the US produces dollars and the rest of the world produces things that dollars can buy, like oil. I posited that the US had gone to war in Iraq and Afghanistan to “stabilize the Petrodollar.” The Petrodollar is how the world pays for its energy. It’s a fancy way of saying that oil is purchased with US dollars.

This is extremely significant because the Petrodollar replaced the gold standard after the US spent its gold fighting the Vietnam War. When they began to borrow heavily, creditors called in their loans, demanding payment in gold. Rather than oblige them (or perhaps because they could not produce the gold, no one knows for sure since there hasn’t been a real audit of the gold reserves in 60 years) the US chose to default on the loans. Then, on August 17th, 1971, Nixon abruptly ended the convertibility of dollars to gold in what became known as the “Nixon Shock.” 

At the same time, Saudi Arabia announced it would only accept dollars for their oil. This was not a coincidence. It was part of a secret arrangement Nixon made with the Saudis. If Saudi Arabia would only accept dollars, then the US promised to safeguard their holdings, modernize their infrastructure, and provide for their security As the dominant nation in OPEC, they were able to influence the remaining oil producing nations to adopt the same policy. The Saudis found a safe place to stash their trillions, and the US walked away with a monopoly on the substance that would become even more precious than gold. 

Since the dollar replaced the gold standard, the rest of the world quickly adopted it as their reserve currency. This dual built-in demand kept the dollar’s value artificially inflated, permitting the US to borrow endlessly in order to maintain the disproportionately high standard of living the nation had grown accustomed to in the post-war years, even in the face of the high levels of inflation suffered in the 1970s and 80s, and the erosion of the industrial base and much of the export economy.

Consequently, the US considers any move against the dollar to be an act of aggression, even war. This was what happened with Saddam Hussein when he moved all of Iraq’s billions in United Nations “oil-for-food” money into Euros (Iraq was not permitted to sell oil on the open market due to US sanctions). It was the only means he had left to offer a proper "fuck you" to the nation that had been pimping him out for 40 years. The real story is known by few. In the Sixties the CIA helped Saddam seize power. Once under our sphere of influence, the US armed him and sent him into war with Iran for eight years. A million lives were lost just so the Americans could play a little "divide & conquer" in the Muslim world. When Hussein emerged deeply in debt, the US told him they wouldn't interfere if he invaded Kuwait. The minute he did, they double-crossed him, and voila, the First Gulf War.

Soon, Iran, Russia and Venezuela intimated that they might drop the petrodollar as well. If that was allowed to happen, there was nothing stopping OPEC from doing the same, regardless of the influence of the Saudis, who hold trillions in dollar-denominated assets. The only way to reverse it would be through force, so that the rest of the world got the message.

Operating from this logical yet limited thesis, I cut out all of Guy’s language about the murderous intent of the US, all mention of the “Shadow Government,” the CIA, and the “drugs and arms running network.” I believed at the time that only “conspiracy theorists” talked about those things. Even if it were true, I still feared their inclusion.

Guy was crestfallen. “Ah, Charlie, you gutted it,” he wrote back to me once he read my draft. “You’re missing the entire point.”

I argued back and forth with him that he was “going overboard” with his theory. He said it wasn’t a theory, it was fact, and well-documented at that. I told him I couldn’t publish any of those assertions without proof, and he laughed at me.

“The proof is right there if you want it,” he said. “But it means nothing without the courage to believe it.”

In the end he walked away from the article, asking that I not put his name on it. The final version, “The Crude Truth,” credited myself and “Henry Quentin Jones,” a pseudonym I had invented and decided to use for the first time on this piece. I had originally created a pseudonym so that I could write about controversial topics without discrediting my own byline. I was more than happy to let Henry be derided as a “conspiracy nut” in place of me.

Those fears didn’t get any better once I started poking around in the history of our oil and military ventures. I got that feeling again like I was looking at something I wasn’t supposed to know, yet it wasn’t that difficult to find abundant evidence that contradicted everything I had been led to believe about American intention and our role in history.

We took all the research we had gathered and laid it out in an exhaustively detailed timeline of American government, military, and private sector interventions in the Middle East and Central Asia from the 1970s until the present. After piecing the timeline together, there could be no denying that the fortunes of the United States were, and remain, hopelessly entwined with those of the Defense and Petrochemical industries.

This trifecta had committed some seriously heinous shit in furtherance of their Petrodollar empire. Yet somehow, I rationalized those acts as “unpleasant, but necessary in order to maintain our standard of living.” Cognitive dissonance was beginning to subsume my psyche, and I was desperately trying to hang on to the lies. Not because I wanted to hold on to them, or even wanted to believe them. It was just infinitely easier to believe the myths and lies than it was to continue grappling with the truth.

A week later I received a package in the mail from Guy. Inside was a copy of an illustrated book on the military history of the United States called, Addicted to War: Why the US Can’t Kick Militarism by Frank Dorrell and Joel Andreas, a DVD entitled, What I’ve Learned About US Foreign Policy: The War Against the Third World, and a collection of old VHS tapes with no labels, on which Guy had taped the documentaries, Coverup: Behind the Iran-Contra Affair, The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis, Bill Moyers 1987 PBS special on the Iran-Contra affair, and Genocide Through Sanctions, a film about the consequences of a decade of US sanctions against Iraq.

I consumed them all and began scouring book stores, video rentals, and internet sites for whatever I could find. In time, I confirmed everything Guy had written and more. I was absolutely flabbergasted to learn the Bush family helped finance the rise of the Nazis [2][3]and were part of a 1933 plot to overthrow Franklin Delano Roosevelt with a military coup, known as the Business Plot. [4]

W’s grandfather, Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush, was part of a cabal of wealthy industrialists and bankers who wanted to turn America fascist and align with Hitler. They approached General Smedley Butler, a war hero beloved by his men for nearly sacrificing his career to speak out during the Bonus Army March in support of his World War I veterans who were owed their service bonds and desperately needed them, as it was the early days of the Great Depression. Instead of leading the coup against Roosevelt, Butler went public, and would eventually testify before Congress about the plot. He later wrote one of the classic expose books of all time, War is a Racket. The book revealed that the military’s true function was to act as enforcers for American corporate interests around the world. In his 33 years of military service Butler admitted he was little more than “a gangster for capitalism” and “a high-class muscle man for Big Business.”

I still had a long way to go to understand the intricate web of characters and backstories that connected what at first glance appeared to be disparate and disconnected events in American history. I was equally ignorant to their far ranging consequences. Yet, this kind of iconoclasm had a narcotic effect. It induced empowerment and bliss, yet the more I indulged, the more I needed. Psychologists would argue I simply transferred my addiction elsewhere.

In time, I would come to see that, yes, even American democracy is a myth. It’s safe to assume that 230 years ago it might have meant something, but the evidence today speaks otherwise. Sure, we ritualistically roll out to the polls every few years, and, heck, sometimes they even bother to count the votes right. Yet so few Americans understand that those we “elect” to office are preselected by the various ruling factions, and they answer to their benefactors, not to “We the People.” Does the average citizen today, in his or her heart of hearts, honestly feel like they have any control over the government these days? How many of you actually feel your so-called elected officials carry out the will of the people?

Most Americans remain ensconced, if not imprisoned, in this myth, fumbling through life in a cloud of propaganda, lies, misinformation, and blind denial. By design, Americans are ignorant of their true history. They know not who rules them, nor what has been done in their name, yet they react with great hostility when these myths are challenged. The government can take everything away from them, saddle them with recessions, wars and trillions in debt, to name but a few inconveniences, and most Americans will still defend to their deaths the belief that they are a free people.

We are free…in the sense that we are free to spend, if we got it like that. If we aint got no ends, we aint got no freedom. Freedom is Debt Slavery. Wake up, America, you been had, conned, bamboozled, played, scammed, hustled, pimped, flim-flammed, and sold a bill of goods. Just you try and tell flag waving Americans this. They would rather knowingly live a lie than face having to do something about it. How is this hard to believe in a nation where millions of Evangelical Christians believe God put dinosaur bones in the earth to “test their faith.”

By the time Newtopia published the “Empires” issue in July 2003, my perspective and world view had shifted irrevocably. I was liberated from the delusion and denial I held about American benevolence and reluctancy. Unfortunately, this only substituted the feel-good myth of American exceptionalism with a bleak and brutal new reality where there were no good guys, only competing interests and moral ambiguity. I did not want to believe it was all a lie, but I was past the point of no return.

For the next few years I existed in a near-crippling state of existential alienation, akin to perpetual nausea. I feared the unseen consequences of lifting the veil as I had and peering into the secret workings of the machine. I felt as if I was somehow doing something wrong by seeking the truth, yet I knew my only recourse was to learn more and understand it better.

I begged Guy to put his name back on the final draft, but he was adamant.

“It’s more yours now than mine,” he said. “I don’t need it. I’m not looking to be a hero. Let them come after you,” he half-joked, not having any clue that was precisely what I was afraid of.

I offered Guy a subtle admission of wrongheadedness by adding material about the “Third World War” to the conclusion of “The Crude Truth” and my monthly Letter from the Editor, aptly titled, “The American Empire.”

Guy sent me a brief note after the issue was published.

“Not bad, Charlie. You can learn. Maybe next time you’ll trust me.”

I did trust him. I wrote back begging his forgiveness, and thanking him profusely for freeing me from a powerful spell. More than that, he pried opened my mind and excavated a lifetime of propaganda and lies that had compacted into dense, radioactive layers of sediment. Underneath, lay an entirely new identity germinating in the rich soil of my transforming consciousness.

The long metamorphosis had begun. From that moment forth I would devote myself to the knowledge and dissemination of truth. It was not easy. For years I would still suffer the same patterns of resistance and denial each time I was confronted with another paradigm-shattering truth. My level of resistance would be proportional to how much I had invested in the lie, but eventually, I would be forced to accept it if I wanted to maintain my sanity. I had finally tasted of the forbidden fruit of knowledge, and was promptly ushered out of Eden, and left to fend for myself, banished to the fringes of the culture in a form of ideological exile.

Guy became my good friend, teacher, and adviser. He proved to be exceptionally loyal and supportive in the hard months before I was sent to prison, which I recount in the latter part of this chapter. Eventually I would adopt his worldview, and often catch myself saying some of the same crazy things. Except they didn't sound crazy anymore, the myths and the official stories sounded crazy. That's when I understood Guy's cynicism. This particular form of enlightenment, many years in the making, comes at a price. It's lonely, and often far worse, out on the fringe. There is much heartbreak, much sadness, and much disillusionment. The truth is not always welcome, and many more will malign your intentions than understand them. 

He was my John the Baptist, anointing me into the Church of Radicalism. And were it not for his tutelage, I probably never would have gotten involved with Sander Hicks, and dove so far down the rabbit hole that I lost my way back to the surface, and was forced to make my home deep inside a twisting warren of exiled truth.

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Endnotes

  1. See Drugs, oil, and war: the United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina, By Peter Dale Scott (2003, Roman & Littlefield)
  2. “Bush/Nazi Link Confirmed” by John Buchanan, The New Hampshire Gazette, Vol. 248, No. 1, October 10, 2003.
  3. "The Bushes and Hitler's Appeasement" by Robert Parry, Consortium News, May 18, 2008
  4. “The Whitehouse Coup” – Mike Thompson, BBC 4, Monday 23 July  2007.

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Exile Nation copyright©2010 CharlesShaw. All rights reserved.

Charles Shaw's work has appeared in Alternet,Alternative Press Review, Conscious Choice, Common Ground, Grist, Guerrilla News Network, Huffington Post, In These Times, Newtopia, The New York Times, openDemocracy, Planetizen, Punk Planet, Reality Sandwich, San Diego Uptown News, Scoop, Shift, Truthout, The Witness, YES!, and Znet. Hewas a Contributing Author to the 2008 Shift Report from the Institute for Noetic Sciences, and in Planetizen'sContemporaryDebates in Urban Planning (2007,Island Press). In 2009 he was recognized by the San Diego Press Club for excellence in journalism.

Charlesis the Director of the Exile Nation Unheard Voices documentary project, the Editor of the openDemocracy Drug Policy Forum, and the Editor of the Dictionary of Ethical Politics, collaborative projects of Resurgence, openDemocracy, and the Tedworth Charitible Trust. He was Editorial Director of Conscious Enlightenment Publishing (Conscious Choice, Common Ground, Whole Life Times, and Seattle's Conscious Choice), the founder and publisher of Newtopia,head writer for the nationally syndicated radio show Reality Checks, Senior Staff Writer for The Next American City, and a Contributing Editor for Worldchanging.

Along-timeactivist and former official for the Green Party of the US, he is a native of Chicago who lives on the West Coast…for now.